Shortest route to Kilauea with outstanding scenery
By Richard McMahon
Special to The Advertiser
A weekly spotlight of a camp site, trail or other hiking information, courtesy of author Richard McMahon
LOCATION: The trail begins at the end of Captain's Drive/Ala Kapena Road in Glenwood, on the Island of Hawai'i. From Hilo, drive southwest on Highway 11 toward the volcano.
Between mile markers 19 and 20 (just past the Hirano Store), turn left on South Glenwood Road. In less than a mile the road curves right and then left, and becomes Captain's Drive/Ala Kapena.
At 3.2 miles from the highway turnoff, the road turns into a narrow, two-track route through the grass for another 0.3 mile, ending at a small turnaround. A prominent sign marks the trail.
DESCRIPTION: Kahaualea has two things going for it. It is a beautiful hike through a lush, fern-blanketed rain forest, and it is the shortest, safest route to Pu'u O'o, the site of the current Kilauea eruption. The route is generally level, with only a few minor ups and downs, but it is relatively long 4.2 miles each way.
Because the scenery hardly varies along the wooded portion of the trail, those who do not wish to make a hike this long, and have no interest in seeing Pu'u O'o, can enjoy going as far as they like, then turning around.
Be prepared for mud, lots of it lurks in the low portions of the trail, and oozes in pools along the route.
Some of these you can find your way around, some have logs corduroyed for stepping on, and others require just wading right through. A good stick is valuable to probe for firm ground. The forest is almost exclusively 'ohi'a and tree fern, typical of Big Island forests at this altitude in the Puna district.
The trail is in good condition and easy to follow, marked with blue ribbons along the route. At times, patches of an old pahoehoe flow appear under the mud along the way.
After stepping (or jumping) over a wide crack, the forest begins to thin and dry out a bit. It ends dramatically at a wide pahoehoe lava field, strewn with hundreds of bleached, gray skeletons of trees killed by the eruptions of Pu'u O'o, which rears its smoking peak just ahead. Sit down on one of the larger fallen trees, pull out your lunch, and enjoy a view that few folks ever see.
SPECIAL COMMENTS: If the lava field at the end of the forest is covered with fog or mist, do not stray far from the woodline; it could be difficult to find your way back to the trail.
The rough a'a skirt around the base of the Pu'u O'o cone will prevent you from approaching too close to the vent, but in no case should you attempt to climb the cone, which is unstable and dangerous.